Back in September 1775, the same year that the American colonies began their war of independence from Great Britain, a Spanish officer named Juan Bautista de Anza led a multi-ethnic contingent of soldiers, friars and colonists on a months-long overland trek from northern Mexico and present-day Arizona to the mission settlements in California.

After a long and sometimes arduous journey, the group reached Monterey in March of 1776. From there, de Anza led a smaller party north to explore what are now San Francisco and the East Bay. They traveled as far as present-day Antioch.

Commemorating their journey more than two centuries later, East Bay Regional Park District naturalists will host a series of free programs on Sunday, April 7 at various points along de Anza's route, highlighting both de Anza's experience and the Native American cultures he encountered along the way.

First on the schedule is a program from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Contra Loma Regional Park in Antioch. Meet at the park's de Anza information panel just past the park entrance kiosk to see how the Indians used soaproot and made brushes from the plant. The park is located at the end of Frederickson Lane off Golf Course Road. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

Ohlone Indian food and folkways will be showcased in another program from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park in Hayward, led by three generations of Ohlone/Bay Miwoks: Ruth Orta, Ramona Garibay, Sabrina Garibay, and Rita Rodriguez, and naturalist Beverly Ortiz. They will show visitors basketry and other aspects of Ohlone culture. Meet at the de Anza information panel by the parking lot at May Road and Mission Boulevard in Hayward.

And from 1 to 5 p.m. April 7, naturalist Michael Charnofsky will lead a car caravan from Mission San Jose to Oakland, retracing the Anza trail and stopping at four historically important points along the way.

Registration is required for Michael's program. To register, call 888-327-2757, select option 2 and refer to program number 1552. For information on Michael's program, call 510-544-3183. For more expedition information, visit www.ebparks.org/activities/naturalists/anzahistoric.

Black Diamond: Speaking of historic events, naturalist Bob Kanagaki will describe the 19th century boomtown days of Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch during a program from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 30, at the park's Rose Hill Cemetery.

Meet Bob at the cemetery, which is a 15-minute uphill walk from Black Diamond Mines' parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4.

Bob's program is free, intended for ages 7 and older. Rain cancels it. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

Dogs, wood ducks: Whatever your interest, there's likely a program to please you scheduled at a regional park in southern Alameda County in the near future.

Dog walkers will enjoy "Canine Capers," a dog friendly hike from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park near Pleasanton, led by naturalist Kristina Parkison (course number 1500). It's for ages 8 and older -- people, that is -- and registration is required.

"Living With The Earth" is a series of free programs for families and individuals ages 7 and older who want to reconnect with nature and learn survival skills. Naturalist Cat Taylor leads the activities.

Wood ducks will be the stars of a "Living" program from 9 to 11 a.m. April 6, at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore (course 1620). And bats will be in the air during a walk from 7 to 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton (course 1621).

On Saturday, March 30, Cat will lead a springtime hike to the Little Yosemite area of Sunol from 8 to 10:45 a.m. It's a 2.5-mile hike to view wildflowers and talk about the Calaveras dam project. Steep in places, the hike is designed for ages 7 and older. It's course number 1597.

Then on Easter Sunday, March 31, Cat will lead a strenuous but slow-paced hike to the top of Sunol's Flag Hill, from 8 to 11:45 a.m. (course 1634). This one's for ages 9 and older.

All these programs are free, except for parking fees, and registration is required. For registration and information, call 888-327-2757, select option 2, and mention the program course number, name and date. Or you can register online at www.ebparksonline.org.

Huckleberry hike: At Huckleberry Regional Preserve in the Oakland hills, there's a three-mile, naturalist-led hike from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, March 31, to see blooming manzanita and irises.

It's free and all ages are welcome. No dogs, please. Meet at the park entrance on Skyline Boulevard about a mile south of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Boulevard. For information, call 510-544-3187.

Tilden Park: At Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, naturalist "Trail Gail" Broesder plans a more strenuous hike from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 31, to the top of Wildcat Peak. You'll see some great views and learn some local history along the way.

The free hike is a seven-miler, intended for ages 9 and older. Bring water and a snack to share. Meet at Tilden's Environmental Education Center at the north end of Central Park Drive. For information, call 510-544-2233.

Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.

Rabbits: Scientifically speaking, rabbits are members of an animal order called lagomorphs. Interpretive student aide Morgan Rani Evans will host a "lagomorphs on the lawn" program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 31, at the Environmental Education Center, sort of a meet-and-greet with Tilden's resident rabbits.

She'll read some stories and share a snack with the bunnies.

Ned MacKay writes about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.

Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.